The hallucinating describing that Elsa, played by Rita Hayworth

The lady from Shanghai was released in 1948 to generally mixed reviews and a lukewarm audience with Variety magazine (Brogdon, 1948) stating “Entertainment value suffered from the striving for effect that featured Orson Welles production, direction and scripting”.  Despite some unfavourable reviews, The lady from Shanghai, a film noir, is unlike anything else in Hollywood’s classical era and has one of the greatest visual effects in its final scene, the hall of mirror scene. The famous hall of mirror scene/funhouse has become one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history and the most stunning scene in the film. Owen Welles wrote, directed, produced and stared in the film as the protagonist Michael O’ Hara.In the realm of the film noir, confusion and complete chaos is common and not a unique plot however Welles tries to accurately convey to the audience the confusion and paranoia associated with the film noir (Hubpages,2011). The scene begins with Michael O’Hara waking up in the amusement park/crazy house and explains the murder plan in voice-over. The voice-over appears to be Michael hallucinating describing that Elsa, played by Rita Hayworth was the killer who killed Grisby and now was planning to kill him as her accomplices brought him to the crazy house. To prove he is not hallucinating, Michael walks down the hallway and emerges into the hall of mirrors almost on an unstable floor giving off the illusion that Michael is ‘crazy’. Elsa who is the femme fatale appears in the doorway in a shadowy appearance and confesses to Michael on why she betrayed him sating “why don’t you try and understand? George was supposed to take care of Arthur, but he lost his silly head and shot Broome. After that, I knew I couldn’t trust him. He was mad. He had to be shot” (The lady from Shanghai, 1948). Tim Dirks (filmsite, 2017) makes an interesting observation that Elsa’s wrong doings are never shown onscreen but rather only her consequences. The hall of mirror scene stands as her consequences for all her wrong doings appearing right in front of her.  After declaring her love to Michael without directly answering his question about who will take off into the sunrise with Elsa (The lady from Shanghai, 1948), Elsa’s husband Bannister appears and catches Michael and Elsa together. As soon as Bannister appears, his image his multiplied a dozen times in vertical panes. Bannister confronts both Elsa and Michael and tells Elsa “You didn’t know that, but you did plan for me to follow you. I presume you think that if you murder me here, your sailor friend will get the blame and you’ll be free to spend my money” (The lady from Shanghai, 1948). At this point Elsa’s face has doubled in the reflection of the mirrors. As Bannister says this Elsa’s face appears in a close up shot focusing on her eyes and it appears as if Bannister can see right through her and read her thoughts. Again, Elsa is confronted with the consequences of her wrong doings as Bannister continues “Well, dear, you aren’t the only one who wants me to die. Our good friend, the district attorney is just itching to open a letter that I left with him. The letter tells all about you, lover (The Lady from Shanghai, 1948). At this point Elsa is aiming her gun directly to Bannister who says “With these mirrors, it’s difficult to tell. You are aiming at me, aren’t you? I’m aiming at you, lover. Of course, Killing you is killing myself. It’s the same thing but you know, I’m pretty tired of both of us” (The lady from Shanghai, 1948). Bannister aims his gun towards Elsa and they stand in front of each other both aiming their guns at each other.  As Bannister says “Killing you is Killing myself’ (The lady from Shanghai, 1948), Elsa’s face appears next to Bannisters face to illustrate that Elsa is a reflection of Bannister and vice versa. In this scene we are confronted with the love triangle of Elsa, Michael and Bannister. Bannister is Elsa’s husband whom Elsa has no true feelings for and Michael is Elsa’s lover. Visually we witness two men in love with the same woman who has brought destruction upon their lives.Bannister and Elsa draw out their guns and point at each other. This particular moment in this scene becomes war, it is Bannister who can be described as the cruel pimp husband versus Elsa, the beautiful femme fatale.  As they are a reflection of each other they self destructively shoot at the multiple images of each other in the mirrors. Both Elsa and Bannister’s aims are confused due to the multiple glass creating contradictory images of one another. This particular scene as the shots are being fired creates a kaleidoscopic of shattered and smashed glass which Tim Dirks (filmsite, 2017) describes as the shattering bits of their false images. The multiple glass scene can be recognised as the intertwining of the virtual and actual. There is confusion between the real and the imaginary. The mirror scene serves as double murder for both characters, both in reality and in imagery. Bannister is shot and dies killing his image as the cruel and vengeful husband together with his physical body. Elsa is shot and eventually dies finally putting an end to her role as the femme fatale.  In the shootout between Elsa and her husband and the multiple reflections of both characters, Michael’s purity of his image is left in the background of this particular moment in this scene as his face is not shown in the mirrors. The mirror image or the mirrors in the crazy house can be considered as virtual because the mirror image is virtual in relation to the actual character that is reflecting in the mirrors (Deleuze, 1985: 71-74). The mirrors optically reflect the characters as they extend from the confusion and deceit that permeates the entire plot. This final scene suggests that the two characters, Elsa and Bannisters self- esteem, personal legacy and self-images had been terminated with this final shoot out in the hall of mirrors. Elsa then stumbles to another room with Michael, laying on the floor, dying, Elsa pleads with Michael to try and gain his sympathy much to her dismay. The camera films at ground level next to Elsa as she pleads in agony. The camera position here indicates the position Elsa finds herself in the final moments of her life. Elsa has completely destroyed her life through corruptness and evil and has lived to her femme fatale image. Elsa is now begging for her life and asking Michael to help her. She is now in the position of need and the camera filming at ground level indicates Michaels superiority over Elsa at that particular moment.  Unhooked by her pleas, Michael abandons Elsa to die alone and walks out of the dark fun house nightmare and released into new life. This time Michael is not hallucinating but is stable and clear minded, a complete contrast to when he first entered into the fun house.The intention of the sound in the hall of mirror/funhouse scene is to have a disruptive element. Welles at that time had background in radio and wanted to incorporate his experience with sound into this particular scene.  The sound in the hall of mirror scene is used as a device to unsettle the audience for example the dialogue in the beginning of the scene between Elsa and Michael, their voices are low to the point where you have to strain your ears in order to fully understand what they are saying. It is a private conversation between the two and Elsa declaring her love for Michael. The sound volume then increases when Bannister appears creating a tense atmosphere and during the shootout the sound is very loud and disruptive indicating the climax of the scene. What is ironic about the entire film and mostly the hall of mirror scene is that in reality Rita Hayworth who played Elsa was married to Orson Welles who played Michael O’Hara. The film was written and shot during the breakdown of their marriage and the public announcement of their divorce seven months before release. Their relationship at the time of filming was toxic which made their collaboration more confusing. The couple’s real-life dynamics manifested its way onscreen. Their disjointed non-linear happenings that are portrayed in the film have a deep connection with the off screen couples l’amour fou. The final hall of mirror scene has an Alice in Wonderland theme revealing what Michael O’ Hara has truly been experiencing: a nightmare at the crossroads of life, love and lust and death (Justice, 2005). The entire scene is plagued by confusion and tension ultimately fulfilling the films mise-en-scene.